Michael L. Roach.
The first mainline diesel locos arrived on the Western Region in 1958 in the shape of Class 41 and Class 42 Warships, followed by the Class 22 in 1959 and the much-loved Class 52 Westerns in January 1962. That month was a water shed because there were now so many diesel locos that express steam locos were being withdrawn in their hundreds each year on the Western Region alone. In the worst month for withdrawals 70 Great Western designed express 4-6-0 locos were condemned. None of the above diesel classes lasted long and with the benefit of hindsight it would have been better if British Railways had ordered more locos of the successful Class 37 and Class 47 locos, both of which have examples still running in 2023. The 37s dated from 1959 and the 47s from 1962.
The year 1962 was the last that there was a reasonable amount of steam at Laira Shed; travelling to Plymouth, being serviced at the Shed; and being rostered on trains out of Plymouth. That picture changed dramatically on the last weekend of December 1962 when the branch from Plymouth to Tavistock South and Launceston closed to passengers and Laira lost perhaps half of its steam-worked trains. The year 1963 was a much leaner year except that there was a short temporary boost to steam during The Big Freeze of January and February 1963 as steam took over and replaced diesels due to the extreme weather. I can only recall two regularly steam hauled trains on the ex-GWR mainline that summer:- the Excursion from Saltash to Goodringron during July and August and a freight train to Cardiff that left Tavistock Junction mid-evening. However with the complete closure of the ex-Southern Railway shed at Friary on 6 May 1963 more steam locos came into Laira's domain. These were mainly the Ivatt 2-6-2 tanks for the Calington Branch and the locos working the line around the north side of Dartmoor to Okehampton and Exeter Central which were mostly rebuilt Bulleid 4-6-2s and BR Standard Class 5 4-6-0s. This situation continued into 1964 when no steam was rostered up the line to Newton Abbot but still the occasional steam loco came down that line to be serviced at Laira. The steam locos arriving from Okehampton continued until the first weekend in September 1964 when Laira steam shed finally closed its doors for good consequent upon the almost complete dieselisation of trains from Exeter Central to Plymouth via Okehampton.
Even the closure of Laira Steam shed did not stop steam locos arriving at Plymouth Station and for four complete months September to December 1964 twice a day a commuter train arrived from Okehampton to return shortly later without the engine leaving the station. I caught the returning morning train just once on 9 September 1964. The 9.50am from Plymouth to Okehampton was hauled by 80036 and I was the only passenger in the three coaches leaving Plymouth. It is hoped to return to the last days of steam at Laira again one day. The railway photos shown below have been used before but hopefully are worth repeating
In the last part of this series we saw a British-built BTD 6 Drott on site clearance. The machine was built by International Harvester whose headquarters were in Chicago USA. Just 150 – 160 miles away from Chicago in Peoria, Illinois was the then HQ of Caterpillar the largest manufacturers of construction equipment in the world and IH's biggest competitor. Caterpillar also built traxcavators which were then much used for loading lorries. The Cat equivalent of the BTD 6 was the 933 which had a similar size diesel engine. There was one Cat 933 on the site of the FVLR which did not have a Drott bucket (although it could have done) but the plain bucket that it did have was a clever invention because it was known as a side-tipping bucket. After loading its bucket in the stockpile the 933 would reverse straight back and empty the spoil into the back of lorry by raising the far end of the hinged bucket. By contrast the BTD 6 had to slew through ninety degrees to unload each bucketfull. The 933 was quicker doing each cycle with less wear on the tracks. The 933, and its bigger brother the 955, were very useful for loading railway wagons in the narrow confines of a railway formation and British Railways used the Cat 955 (or similar traxcavators) with side-tipping bucket for many years.
The Cat 933 used on this scheme was actually owned by the Council and had the registration TDR 227. It was loading away from a stockpile of excavated material which had been deposited there by a tractor and scraper combination which we will see later in the series. The lorry that the 933 had finished loading one minute earlier had the registration EJY 25 or FJY 25 and was owned by R. Westlake and Sons (Devonport) Ltd. The firm had started in 1880 with one horse and cart but had a large fleet of 4-wheel tipper lorries in 1962. The firm had an interesting history which can be read on the Old Devonport website. Much excavated material like this went to the Council's refuse tip where it was used to mix with and cover the domestic refuse, making it easier to compact and minimise settlement and seagull nuisance.
MLR / 10 March 2023